If the new rules package, passed earlier this year during the House organizational session, was supposed to streamline the legislative process, it did not work on Tuesday.

A group of lawmakers successfully slowed debate in the House on Tuesday, halting a bill that would criminalize holding a mobile phone while driving.

House Bill 8 (HB8), sponsored by State Rep. Randy Wood (R-Anniston), would prohibit a person from watching or recording a photograph or video while operating a vehicle. It would also prohibit a person from physically holding a wireless telecommunications device while driving.

Former State Rep. K.L. Brown unsuccessfully attempted to pass a nearly identical bill in 2022.

Wood repeatedly expressed that the intention behind the bill was simply to "save lives" by cutting down on distracted driving.

Despite the revised rules, HB8 received lengthy debate, ultimately leading to the bill not receiving a vote at all on Tuesday.

Through a maelstrom of suggested amendments, several — primarily Democratic — lawmakers expressed concerns with the bills, using each debate section on each section of the legislative process to burn time.

State Rep. Juandalynn Givan (D-Birmingham) pointed out that several things, like eating and applying makeup, are also distracting for drivers, questioning the selectiveness of the bill.

House Minority Leader Anthony Daniels (D-Huntsville) believed the legislation could lead to profiling. He also expressed concern over Alabama Law Enforcement Agency (ALEA) not collecting data on those charged under HB8's statutes since data collecting would make it clear if racial groups were disproportionately pulled over. Data collecting was part of the original bill, but Wood said he removed it since ALEA already collected that data on traffic stops and would be redundant.

Even so, State Rep. Laura Hall (D-Huntsville) introduced an amendment reinserting the data collection stipulation, which had additional debate time before eventually passing.

State Rep. Jamie Kiel (R-Russellville) asked Wood why the law only applied to drivers 18 and older, to which Wood responded saying he didn't know. Kiel said he had broad sympathies for preventing distracted driving. However, he opposed the bill for its ability to create increased government power.

"What I do think we should guard against is more government in our lives, more government in our vehicles," Kiel said. "And I am concerned that's what this does; it gives opportunity to the government to interact with us more."

Other lawmakers expressed concern that a law enforcement officer's word would be the only thing proving a person was using their phone, therefore preventing a person from appealing their case in court. Wood said he believed any court would take a police officer's word.

Democrats made up the majority of lawmakers taking up the entire time to debate. Yet, State Rep. Matt Simpson (R-Daphne) introduced an amendment allowing people to input GPS coordinates into their phones and use the voice-to-text function on phones.

After lengthy debate, most of which pointed out that Simpson's amendment would make the law virtually unenforceable, he withdrew the proposed amendment.

State Rep Frances Holk-Jones (R-Foley) attempted to introduce an amendment that cleared up an "unenforceable" aspect of the bill that she said tried to dictate to insurance companies underwriting guidelines."

After two-and-a-half hours total of debate, State Rep. Mary Moore (R-Birmingham) motioned to carry the bill over to the call of the chair, meaning that House Speaker Nathaniel Ledbetter (R-Rainsville) could bring the bill back on the floor for deliberation at any time.

"Seem as though we have quite a few amendments on this bill, and it seems as though it's a situation where we need to sit down, and all interested parties work to kind of straighten it out," Moore said.

The motion passed 56 – 41.

Dejected by failing to pass the bill, Wood concluded with an ominous farewell to House members.

"This bill was written trying to help people, but people don't want to be helped," Wood said. "K.L. Brown, when he walked out of here the last time, he actually had tears in his eyes because he cared about mankind so much. And just like I said, this thing was about life and death. Now I hope and pray none of you have a hardship or anything like that with your family or your kids or anything."

To connect with the author of this story or to comment, email craig.monger@1819news.com.

Don't miss out! Subscribe to our newsletter and get our top stories every weekday morning